Ayalon's Dirty Hands

Labor's Ami Ayalon, whose nomination to the cabinet as a minister-without-portfolio was approved yesterday, sat at a restaurant that day to explain over lunch why he decided to join Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government after all.

His explanation was strained. The reasons he offered were predictable. Ayalon listed "sensitivity to security matters," his "hope for regional developments" and his "desire to make a difference from within." His explanations sounded as though they came from some manual for inexperienced politicians who had entangled themselves in endless declarations and conflicting commitments, who were now trying to wriggle out of the whole mess. The attempt is predestined to fail.

Eventually, after he exhausted all of his convoluted explanations, Ayalon finally admitted he was just fed up.

Ayalon is fed up of not getting his hands dirty. He could have adhered to his earlier statements and stuck to his uncompromising positions - to which his owes his popularity - and stayed out. He could have dried out from boredom in the Knesset. But that's not why he got into politics.

Ayalon went into politics to influence matters, to sit behind the right tables and attend the right discussions. In short, to be in the loop. Ayalon has to be in the loop, where he has been his whole life. Why should he stay out now, of all times, when things are heating up down south and up north, when Washington's peace summit is nearing, and when the government seems to enjoy stability for the next 18 months at the very least?

And the retired navy chief can certainly bring something to the cabinet's table, which is so often devoted to examining Israel's security needs. The torrent of condemnations and barbs from his Labor colleagues, members of the opposition and hoards of Internet responders was the blatant confliction between Ayalon's statements and his actions. Between his image and reality. Because people expect more from Ayalon.

Or rather, people used to expect more from Ayalon. Now he's just another politician, for better and for worse. Mostly for worse. He is aware of the blow his image has sustained following his decision to join, after pledging during the Labor primary election not to sit in Olmert's cabinet, and calling on Olmert to resign following the interim Winograd report. Now Ayalon says he has made up his mind, and will deal with the fallout.

Ayalon's case is reminiscent of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's public debacle over the indictment of former president Moshe Katsav for sexual offenses. Mazuz's decision not to indict for rape was justified in itself, but his "handling of the affair" (an expression that seems to have taken over our lives), his bombastic statements and the dramatic interviews he gave got him into trouble with just about everyone. They also resulted in a legal dispute with the High Court of Justice.

The past year has at least taught Ayalon and Mazuz the importance of silence. Ayalon in politics, Mazuz in justice. Now that Ayalon has been approved to join the cabinet, Defense Labor chair and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is also pleased.

And Olmert also got his way. But then again, Olmert always seems to end up getting his way.